What makes spicy foods spicy?
Spicy foods tend to be fiery hot, which is caused by organic compounds known as capsaicinoids, with capsaicin being the most well-known. They are the active ingredients that make spicy foods spicy.
The reason for the irritant is an adaptation in defense against people who try to eat them.
The prime targets of the capsaicin on the tongue are the VR1 receptors. It binds with the receptors and causes a burning sensation that is signaled to the brain.
Some people might be tempted to think that the organic compound can be made less burning by drinking water, but this is entirely untrue. Capsaicin is like oil, and it does not mix water. Drinking water will only spread the burn and increase irritation.
Can spicy food cause chest pain?
Yes, eating spicy food can make your chest hurt.
These are the most common reasons people think of (even though, they are not necessarily true, please read on):
- Heart attack: Occasionally symptoms might be so severe, that one tends to believe it’s a heart attack, but usually this is not the case.
- Acid reflux: Spicy foods are known for triggering acid reflux, but this again might not always be the case.
- Barrett’s esophagus: This refers to the damaged lining of the esophagus due to acid reflux. If you have Barrett’s esophagus, spicy foods are very likely to cause chest pain.
- Stomach ulcers: Having stomach ulcers is considered to be another possible cause of stomach pain after eating spicy foods.
Can spicy food give you a heart attack?
On the contrary, the studies mentioned above found that those people who eat spicy foods often tend to live longer:
Although the mechanism by which peppers could delay mortality is far from certain, Transient Receptor Potential (TRP) channels, which are primary receptors for pungent agents such as capsaicin (the principal component in chili peppers), may in part be responsible for the observed relationship.(source)
This doesn’t mean that spicy foods cannot cause a heart attack, but even if they do, it’s probably not because of the spice content.
For example, red or processed meats put your heart at risk. They might cause heart problems regardless of whether they are spicy or not.
It’s good to be aware of the most common heart attack symptoms, and if you think you might have a heart attack, you should always look for immediate medical help.
Can you eat spicy food after a heart attack?
Yes, as long as you keep a healthy diet, adding spice to your food might actually be beneficial for the heart.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about the foods you should avoid, chances are spice won’t be on the list. However, greasy, oily, fried, and sugary foods are not recommended, a huge slice of red meat with some spice might do more harm than good.
Heartburn after eating spicy food?
The burning sensation in the chest some people experience after eating spicy food is probably not a heart attack, but heartburn.
Capsaicin in small amounts might help digestion, which helps prevent reflux symptoms. However, it looks like eating too much capsaicin can indeed trigger heartburn.
If you have GERD or frequent reflux attacks, it’s quite possible that the lining of your esophagus is already damaged to a certain extent (Barrett’s esophagus). In such cases spicy foods can further irritate the esophagus, causing pain similar to heartburn.
Sharp pain in the chest after eating spicy food
Depending on the other symptoms and the food, heartburn, and acid reflux can be a more likely cause than a heart attack.
Sharp chest pain is often associated with a heart attack, however, as mentioned above spice should not cause heart issues.
Possible causes might be:
- Heart attack: This still might be a heart attack, it’s just not triggered by the spice but some other food (e.g. red meat, or other high-fat food). Besides chest tightness, pain radiating into the left shoulder, arm, neck, and shortness of breath are common symptoms.
- Heartburn: Sharp chest pain with regurgitation, or a sore throat is more likely to be heartburn. The pain usually gets worse when lying down.
Sometimes the irritation caused by stomach acids can be so painful, that people think it must be a heart attack. In fact, according to Keck Medicine of USC, 30%-40% of people presenting to the emergency room with chest pain have acid reflux and heartburn, not a heart attack.
If you are not sure about what is causing you sharp chest pain, you should always look for emergency medical help!
Stomach cramps after spicy food
The most common causes of stomach pain after eating spicy foods are:
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- existing ulcers
Indigestion and spicy foods
A small amount of spicy food only causes indigestion if there is an underlying gastrointestinal problem. However, it’s also possible that not the spice but some other ingredient in the food triggers the symptoms.
As we’ll discuss below, spicy foods might trigger gastritis or IBS and indigestion is a possible symptom of these conditions.
Those who eat spice with a large slice of red meat or other fatty foods (e.g. fried foods) are more likely to experience symptoms because of the fat and not the spice.
The inflammation of the stomach lining can cause various symptoms:
- upset stomach, nausea, vomiting
- abdominal pain
This study found that eating spicy foods significantly increased the risk of gastritis.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Spicy foods can trigger IBS symptoms. A study about IBS and spicy foods found:
Consumption of spicy foods is directly associated with IBS, particularly in women.(source)
People with IBS can experience a wide variety of gastrointestinal symptoms:
- both diarrhea and vomiting
- stomach cramps, back pain
So if spicy foods give you stomach ache, bloating, diarrhea, or other unpleasant symptoms, it might be that you suffer from IBS.
Another possible cause might be ulcers:
Can spicy foods cause ulcers?
No, spicy foods have been known to aggravate the symptoms of ulcers in some people, however, they are not the cause of ulcers.
A study on capsaicin — the ingredient responsible for spiciness in peppers — showed it might even be good for the stomach.
“Capsaicin actually stimulated the stomach to produce protective mechanisms against ulcers,” Bechtold said.
He added there is also no evidence spicy foods hurt already formed ulcers. If, however, spicy food causes you abdominal discomfort, turn down the heat on your diet(source)
Ulcers are caused by a certain bacteria known as helicobacter pylori which come from chronic use of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and contaminated food or water.
Using certain medicines like aspirin and ibuprofen for prolonged periods can also damage tissues and, as a result, cause ulcers.
The American College of Gastroenterology seems to agree that spicy foods do not cause ulcers, although they mention that certain foods might irritate an ulcer that is already there.
Pain on the left or right side after eating spicy food
Eating-related left side pain is usually associated with heart or pancreas issues, while right side pain is often caused by gallbladder or liver problems. Spice is unlikely to affect these, still, people might experience either left or right side pain after spicy foods.
Possible causes are:
- It’s not the spice. This one is a very common reason. After eating a large piece of greasy, spicy meal some might experience either right or left side. In this case, it’s more likely that the fat triggers symptoms and not the spice. In fact, fatty foods often trigger gallbladder, liver, or pancreas problems.
- You might have an ulcer on the left or right side of the stomach and the spice causes irritation.
- For some reason, you feel gastritis or IBS pain on one side only.
How to cure stomach aches after eating spicy food?
Most people typically turn to cold water to get rid of the burning feeling in their mouths. However, this does not work as they would expect and makes the sensation spread all over.
Some of the most effective ways to get rid of the pain are drinking milk or yogurt. The milk will dissolve the capsaicin from the reactive area and remove it. The chemical that makes spices spicy can also dissolve in alcohol, olive oil, and peanut butter.
Other ways to neutralize spice in the stomach and mouth:
- To get relief from the scorching feeling, you can eat rice or bread, which will soak up the molecules and give you instant relief.
- Sugar and honey in small amounts might also help as they readily absorb the spicy oil and leave you feeling better. Be careful with sugary foods if you are prone to acid reflux. However, honey might provide further relief.
- Lime and lemons are also a ready way to stop stomach pain and effectively neutralize capsaicin. Additionally, creamy fruits and vegetables such as bananas are also known to help in removing the capsaicin from your digestive system.
Spicy foods have a very bad reputation of causing chest pain after eating, but the popular beliefs are not always backed by scientific studies.
- Are you eating too much spice? Spice in small might actually be beneficial, eating too much is likely to cause symptoms.
- Is it the spice? We tend to eat meat with spice, however, it is easy to overeat spicy meats. Red meats are especially slow to digest. Maybe it’s the meat that is causing the symptoms.
Whatever the reason is, if you experience chest pain after eating spicy foods, you might consider eliminating them from your diet.
Frequently asked questions
Spicy foods don’t tend to cause heart pain. You might experience acid reflux or might have eaten fatty foods, that might trigger heart issues.
The capsaicin in spicy foods might irritate your throat and vocal cords by binding to certain receptors (VR1 receptors) that send a signal to the brain, which is felt as a burning sensation.
Too much food might trigger various gastrointestinal symptoms. Too much spice might make your throat and stomach burn, or burning diarrhea.